There’s a lot of money to be made as a PDR tech, and the business model is enviable. Consider:
- No cost of goods sold. No chemicals, paint, or any other high-volume supplies.
- High $/hour. The shortage of expert techs makes this skill rare and pay is great.
- Mobile = low overhead. No shop, no utilties, no employees. It’s a small business dream.
- No hazardous chemical exposure. A lot of PDR techs come out of body shops full of solvent fumes and isocyanates.
Just ten years ago, the options for getting started were very limited. There were only a few schools, no study-at-home programs, and the few schools in business could charge what they wanted in the absence of competition. But in 2011, the training industry has grown significantly: costs are down and options are many!
Paintless Dent Repair Training Resource 1: Dent Schools.
There’s at least 5 well established formal dent schools in the US. Find them with a Google search or join http://doording.com (an online community of PDR techs) to find what’s available. Schools do an excellent job of teaching the fundamentals of metal behavior and dent repair. In a controlled environment, they can show you how to safely repair basic dents with clear access. The paintless dent repair instructors are usually quite experienced and good at explaining techniques in simple terms.
However, dent schools tend to avoid the more difficult dents that real-world customers pay top dollar for. They want you to have a positive experience and walk away confident, but they may withold this crucial truth: no paintless dent removal tech can make a living doing just the easy dents. On the job, access is difficult, not all dent repair should even be attempted, and some dents can only be improved but not eliminated.
Training Resource 2: Study-at-Home.
Most of the study-at-home courses are sold on eBay. Again, refer to Door Ding (see link above) for recommendations on a good course. Studying at home is obviously attractive because of the time and money savings: travelling to a school will cost you a week and at least $3500 in tuition, airfare, and lost wages. Buy some sample panels from a local auto parts yard, and practice in your home in front of the television as your instructor walks you through basic to moderately complicated dent repairs on DVD.
The convenience of at-home PDR training comes with a major drawback: no immediate feedback from an instructor. You can pick up some pretty bad habits without an experienced PDR tech looking on. And without the in-person guidance of a teacher, it’s going to be very difficult to learn the more complicated techniques.
Training Resource 3: Shadow a Master Tech.
There are some master PDR techs that will take you along on their daily route for a few days for a fee. You can find them on doording.com. Of course, be sure you’re not going to compete in the same city or town, so you will have to travel out of your area. Learning from a technician on his “route” exposes you to the many problems that go beyond just fixing simple dents: you have to sell the service, collect from customers, forward certain dents to body shops, and take on dents that push the limits of PDR. Following a full-time PDR professional for a week gives you a true look at the daily life of a PDR service owner.
There are some drawbacks, however. You may not have time for “hands-on” training. That is, you may only be watching your guide, for example, use dent repair tools on a hail damage car. It’s best to spend some time with a study-at-home system to master the basics of dent repair before investing in a “follow-along” program.
Ultimately, there’s no substitute for repetition.
Although these three tools will give a foot in the door, the real learning occurs in the first 6-12 months, on the job, making mistakes and overcoming adversity. Only from repetition–fixing 100s and 1000s of dents–can you truly improve your auto body repair skills and begin to work up the payscale of pro dent repair. Your best option for getting this practice is to service small car lots with lots of cars $5000 or less. They won’t pay well, but you won’t be under pressure to produce top quality work in short time. It’s on these lots that you will “pay your dues” and eventually graduate on to the lifestyle and income that you coveted when you started.